Vidor is a small town in Southeast Texas with a rich country music heritage. Besides being the birthplace of country legend George Jones, it can also lay claim to hit makers Tracy Byrd and Clay Walker. Not bad for a town of 11,000.
At 4:28 in the evening of July 11, two Vidor police officers responded to a domestic disturbance call in a residential area near Interstate 10. At 4:45 those officers encountered a man walking along East Railroad Street. Two minutes and four to ten gunshots later, that man was dead.
“He was a nice person,” Paula Zambardino, aunt of the deceased, told KFDM. “He would give his shirt off his back for you.”
Joe Greer was a 41-year-old father and the youngest child of James and Anna Marie Greer, whom he and his son were living with at the time of his death.
According to his mother, Joe Greer had been experiencing issues with his “mental and emotional health” that Mrs. Greer attributed to bipolar disorder, a condition that Anna Marie’s own mother suffered from. More recently, Joe had been especially upset over the breakup with his girlfriend.
On Friday, July 11, tensions in the Greer household came to a head when a heated argument between Joe and his parents led to a domestic disturbance call being made to Vidor police. Anna Marie Greer told reporters at the scene that after the argument Joe stormed out of the house, but insisted her son left to “cool off” by walking around the neighborhood.
The confrontation that would end Joe’s life happened a block from the Greer home.
“He wasn’t going to hurt anyone,” Mrs. Greer stated. “He was a good boy. They shouldn’t have shot him.”
The authorities allege that Greer was “wielding a knife” when officers approached him and that the “physical altercation” that ensued left police no choice but to use deadly force against their suspect.
The Greers don’t deny their son had a knife on him when he left the home that evening. A “child’s” knife, they called it. But whatever the size of the blade, Joe’s father James Greer, Sr. believes officers could’ve dealt with his son without killing him.
“They could’ve stunned him or shot him in the leg,” Mr. Greer told reporters. “But when I hear four to ten times, I call that murder by the Vidor police.”
This sentiment was echoed by others at the scene. “As far as I’m concerned he was murdered,” stated a visibly angered man described by the Beaumont Enterprise as an “unidentified family member of Joseph Greer.”
And the fact that the family of Joe Greer feels nothing short of murder took place in Vidor on July 11 is nearly the most tragic element of this story. Because the call to police that resulted in their son’s death was made by the parents themselves.
“I wouldn’t have ever called the police if I knew something like that was gonna happen,” Joe’s father told reporters.
And in a way, that statement says it all. Because the sad and unfortunate truth is that many Americans have yet to recognize the situation we now face as a society. That much of the population either remains oblivious, chooses to ignore, or flat out refuses to accept the fact that police forces in this country have long since existed to protect and serve the communities they patrol. That our law enforcement agencies, like those of similarly authoritarian societies today and throughout history, exist for a single, maddeningly evident purpose—to keep the citizenry in check.
The reluctance is understandable. Because this particular truth is a shattering one. To accept it requires no less than the busting up of foundations, than the ripping out of hardwired programming. It’s tough, bloody work.
And that’s the easy part.
Because once you’ve accepted the truth, you then have to live with it. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable going about your day with the knowledge that federal agencies across the board are stockpiling ammunition under the flimsiest of pretexts. It’s unsettling to know that local police forces across the country are being militarized with tanks and hardware so as to be better able to put down those among us who are uppity enough to protest. No one wants to believe the badged, uniformed figures we’ve been conditioned to view as the guardians of our society are, in fact, being trained to view you, the citizen, as the enemy—one the dutiful officer should never hesitate to dispatch should the opportunity arise.
It’s a hard truth, and an ugly one, but denying it invites heartache. Just ask them. Ask the parents whose children were slain by the very officers who were called in for assistance.
Ask the parents of Keith Vidal, who watched helplessly as police pinned their 18-year-old schizophrenic son to the ground and put a bullet in him.
Ask the father of Tyler Comstock, who wanted to teach his son a lesson after the 19-year-old took off in the family truck, only to discover that the officers responding to his call gunned his boy down in a nearby parking lot.
Ask James and Anna Marie Greer.
Or take a minute out of your day and search for other cases. A minute is all you’ll need.
Or bypass the families altogether, and just ask the affected communities.
In the wake of the Eric Garner murder in Staten Island, New York Magazine published an article detailing the response, via online commenting in law enforcement communities, of cops to Garner’s death. The vitriol and outright depravity on display there shall not be reproduced here. Nonetheless, the article is highly effective in communicating the attitude modern policing agents have toward the citizens they’re purported to safeguard.
Now let’s reverse the focus. Let’s use the same tactic, but look not at the comments of law enforcement, but at those of the people who actually live in the affected communities. More specifically, let’s look at some of the user comments posted beneath articles about Joe Greer’s death that ran in news outlets in the Vidor area.
An examination of posts at the KFDM site, for instance, where several users claimed to know Joe and his family personally, offers readers a better picture of who this man was.
Laments one user: “38 years of friendship gone in a matter of seconds…He was like a brother to me. We were 4 years old when we became friends. Known him and his family all my life…”
Another had fond memories of Joe: “worked with this great guy many moons ago at Walmart. He went out of his way to send a smile if one was needed or lend a hand to help out. I will always remember Joe for his kindness and his sweet nature. Prayers to the family.”
Another concurs: “I knew Joe, I worked and hung out with Joe, He was a Good Guy and Anna and Her family are in Our Prayers tonight.”
One commenter, in particular, seemed especially devastated: “I have been friends with the family for the past 30 years…Such a sad day for the Greer family…(Joe Greer) I will miss you my friend…that “smirk” on your face and your laugh…I love you my friend…Rest in Peace…”
A commenter at the 12News site, in response to some who were not from the area and defending the officers, pointed out that: “You don’t know…Vidor pd. This isn’t Houston or Dallas where there are 1 or 2 million people walking around everyday. Vidor has a population of about 11000, and we can defend this man because we knew him, and how he acted.”
A user at the Beaumont Enterprise’s website seemed suspicious of but not surprised by the events of July 11: “’Six or seven times’? Trigger happy cops. But......this is Vidor.”
And a commenter back at KFDM states bluntly: “I know not to involve vidor pd into any kind of disturbance if I don’t want anyone to die”
Several commenters were aware that Joe had some problems in his life, and a handful of others even knew he carried a knife with him—though most of those made a point of saying that Joe would’ve never tried to use it against police. But even with a blade and possible behavioral issues, an overwhelming number of commenters still couldn’t understand why deadly force was used by police officers that day.
But more than anything else, a survey of user comments regarding this case makes two things abundantly clear. One, the people of Vidor—or at least those who felt moved to comment—found Joe Greer to be a gentle, giving man. And two, it appears at least some in the Vidor area have begun to see through the “protect and serve” facade of their local police department.
And it is a facade. Has been for decades, in fact. It takes only a particle of common sense to see it. Common sense tells you a knife, no matter the circumstances, is no match for two guns. Common sense tells you, with cops today trained to view the public as a threat and to hold officer safety above all else, that Joe Greer was murdered by the Vidor police department.
If there’s a lesson to be taken away from this situation, it seems to be this: unless you’re the most upright of citizens—adherer to all law, obedient to all authority and without insolence or malady of any stripe—you’d do well to avoid police at any cost.
Being a decent person isn’t enough. You can’t also, like Joe Greer, be going through a rough patch in your life.
You can’t have a "condition" like Keith Vidal.
You can’t be a kid acting out like Tyler Comstock.
You can’t be like me, and probably you, and the incalculable others among us who don’t fall within our betters’ definition of a “good citizen.”
The two officers have been placed on administrative leave, with pay. A Texas Ranger is heading the investigation into the shooting. And in the meantime, the trend of parents acting as the inadvertent catalysts of their own children’s demise will undoubtedly continue.
And that, as previously mentioned, is only nearly the most tragic element of the Joe Greer story. Without question, the most tragic element found here is in the unimaginable emptiness that fate has seen fit to engulf the Greer family. Because Joe, the youngest of James and Anna Marie Greer’s three sons, had been the only one still living.
And what’s more, the mother of Joe’s son is dead as well.
For those keeping count, that’s parents with all three sons taken and a son, now, with both parents gone. And all are grieving under one roof down in Southeast Texas.
Not that the Greer story is special. History is replete with families all but wiped out through atrocity or injustice. But the fact that the Greer story isn’t special doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking.